Napier's Pacifica named New Zealand's restaurant of the year
A Napier restaurant has knocked over the heavyweights of the Auckland dining scene to claim the supreme honour at this year's Cuisine Good Food Awards.
Pacifica, which has been hailed as one of the emerging stars of the country's dining scene for several years, was named the Restaurant of the Year at the awards ceremony in Auckland on Monday night.
The restaurant and its chef, Jeremy Rameka, were praised by judges for developing a genuine New Zealand cuisine, drawing on fresh and uniquely local ingredients, served in an unpretentious but expertly judged setting.
The gala ceremony was one of the biggest nights of the year for the hospitality industry, with the Cuisine awards and their associated "hat" rankings now firmly established as the country's leading national restaurant competition.
Other stand-out results included Auckland restaurant Apero taking the coveted best metropolitan restaurant title; Wellington's venerable Logan Brown climbing back up the rankings to emerge as the capital's highest-rated restaurant; and the acclaimed Roots restaurant in Lyttelton once again being the only establishment outside of Auckland to secure the maximum three-hat rating.
In the regions, Waikato and Central Otago had strong showings, but perhaps the most remarkable showing was from Hawke's Bay which claimed four "hatted" restaurants - only two fewer than Canterbury - and three of the national category titles.
Top of the tree was Pacifica, which had been named the top regional restaurant in 2015 and 2016. It specialises in a determinedly Kiwi style of excellent but casual dining - or, as the Cuisine judges put it, "capturing the essence of Kiwi food, with finesse".
Run from a distinctive blue bungalow on Napier's Marine Parade by Rameka and his partner, Natalie Bulman (also the restaurant's maitre d' and sommelier), Pacifica took out top honours despite only achieving a two-hat rating from the award judges. Cuisine editor Kelli Brett explained that the judging criteria for the award involved more factors over a longer time than the assessments carried out to decide the hat rankings.
To receive recognition from Cuisine meant a lot to the chef, who has won in past years.
He said that his goal was "for New Zealand, for the food scene to come up".
"It's about identity and it shows right around the country," he said.
"I'm Maori, I'm proud to be Maori, but it's not about that. It's our attitude, it's our approach to food.
"We don't need to copy anybody else, we don't need anybody else's permission and we break the rules and we do it smart."
The judges said in their final report on Pacifica: "The question 'what is Kiwi cuisine?' is often asked, and the answer could well lie in the offerings of chef Jeremy Rameka at Pacifica.
"A delicate and restrained touch in the kitchen results in beautifully presented flavours, and an opportunity to truly taste the ingredients that Rameka has front of mind."
While its degustation (or tasting) menu changed from night to night, examples of dishes included kumara and mozzarella tortellini in a Bostock chicken broth; ling and smoked warehou in a shiitake and soy broth; and Hohepa honey and lemon vanilla pastry cream.
The main awards of the evening highlighted a subtle but telling shift away from Auckland, traditionally the centre of restaurant excellence. The city claimed seven of the eight three-hat ratings, including the only newcomer to that group in Clooney. And an acclaimed new arrival on the Auckland scene, Pasture, took out both the Chef of the Year award (Ed Verner) and the Best Drinks List prize.
But while last year Auckland restaurants took seven of the 12 category titles (including Restaurant of the Year, which went then to The French Cafe), this year just five of 13 categories went to the city.
The awards also included a new section to recognise a "food legend", which was presented to Moeraki restaurateur Fleur Sullivan.